“People want to do something. They hear these stories, they read the testimonies on the blog and in the email, and it’s like, ‘okay, I hate this but what do I do?’” Taryn Chula assessed the plight of those who have been made aware of the sex trafficking industry and its complexities, but consequently, feel powerless. She offers a uniquely accessible solution: “You can run! You can run, and it doesn’t cost you anything!”
Such a solution may immediately draw excuses from non-runners, but for Taryn, her pain and her story found its footing in redemption with committing to a simple act outside of herself: running a race for someone else. To engage in a conversation with Taryn about this story is to feel compelled, even as a vehement non-runner, to do the same.
It was in 2009, as Taryn went through a painful divorce, that running became a form of healing for her––one that would unexpectedly become a form of service and generosity.
”I actually hated [running],” she laughed, but “at some point in my adult life… I liked the way I felt when I ran, I felt very strong. So when I went through my divorce, it was like therapy for me… I could do something good for my body, for my lungs and my legs, but I could also engage my mind,” she explained what a gift this activity had been for her, and her spiritual life. “I can hear God’s voice clearer on a run, in nature, than anywhere else.”
Since those initial shifts, Taryn has only found it to be more of a place of clarity and nearness to God; particularly in that season, it became something that, “really did check off a lot of boxes” as she processed her pain. Yet, the real shift in her healing came when she leveraged these experiences in a more unexpected way.
“You get to the point in the dark space, where you’re like, ‘okay, I’m tired of talking about this. I’m tired of thinking about it. I feel like all the focus is on me.’” She described a shift in her grief that was pivotal for her; “There needs to be that point where you say, ‘if I don’t do something for somebody else, or think of somebody else, I’m going to go crazy.’”
She continued, “I really feel like the Lord spoke to me and said, ‘why don’t you combine your efforts?’ I was a runner––I had been a runner for a little while, and had a few races under my belt––but they had all just been for me… He said, ‘why don’t you run for somebody other than yourself?’ Which went along with what was going on inside of me already; I was thinking ‘I need to get the focus off myself here, or I’m just going to wallow away in my sorrow.’”
With this alignment of season and opportunity, Taryn began looking for the “somebody else” she could run for. It was then that the Lord brought Refuge for Women, an incredibly new ministry at the time, to her mind.
Two years prior, Taryn had been invited to join an organization called Bruised Reed to go into strip clubs on Christmas and use her gift of massage therapy to offer chair massages to the women there.
“That was really the first time my heart broke for the women. I just couldn’t believe that was going on, twenty minutes from my house, every night,” she explained this initial spark of ache and passion for this cause. “There was part of me that wanted to forget what I saw, but I couldn’t.”
Through that opportunity, she had connected with Ked and Michelle Frank, who were just taking the steps to start their non-profit, and Taryn was cheerleading for them all the way.
Each of these pieces came together as she searched for an organization to run for, and contacted Ked about if she could run for Refuge, which had just formed their first board weeks beforehand.
“Could you use me?” She called and asked Ked. “Could I raise some money for you guys? Would that be okay?” He laughed in response. His recent prayer had been that God would put it on the hearts of ordinary people to raise money and awareness for Refuge.
From there, Taryn chose to run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C., as she found that it represented freedom, and the price paid for it. She also knew from other races and her experience, that the cause would often connect the runner with the name of a real person, and the runner would get to run with that person in mind, or present. It was an incredibly personal touch, and one Taryn thought could be easily duplicated. With that in mind, Ked and Michelle and a woman from Refuge traveled to D.C. to cheer her on, watch her run, and see the sacrifice in the form of sweat and sore legs being made for the women of Refuge. She raised over $5000 in total, not to mention the number of people she was able to invite into awareness and community with Refuge for Women.
“God took my little bit of crumbs that I was bringing and multiplied it to this large meal,” Taryn recounted with amazement. “Out of the depths of my despair, this evil thing that had happened to me, God made good out of it.”
Yet, this race was only the beginning. This one idea catapulted Taryn to help Refuge go on to organize and run a number of other races, and partner with others everywhere from their local community to Vegas and beyond.
It’s been a number of years since Refuge has pushed this initiative, but with spring in bloom and the pandemic coming to a close, it seems that there would be no better time than now to revisit this idea––Running for a Reason––to encourage people to run for something outside of themselves, and to partner with their community in those efforts.
“If everybody just gets into their own space and world––especially if they do a local race––then they can raise awareness in their communities,” Taryn explained the motive behind their plan to partner with those running their own local races, to give individuals the freedom to raise awareness and funds within their own schedule and community. She emphasized that this is not an effort limited to running professionals, but for those who see the ache of this crisis and are willing to use the body and time they have––regardless of the pace or distance.
“God used my love for running, my broken heart for the women, and the pain in my life. I needed something to put my focus and energy on, because I was drowning in my own sorrow. Running did that for me, and linked all these things together,” she recounted with conviction. “This was my assignment in His Kingdom. It’s the goodness of God that he takes even your hobbies and your passions, and thrusts them all together. It’s beautiful.”